Filmmaker Aparna Sen, who had worked with cinematographer Ashok Mehta in "36 Chowringhee Lane", "Paroma" and "Sati", is devastated after learning about his demise, as she considered him her pillar of strength.
"The last time I met him was at the Mumbai premiere of my film 'The Japanese Wife'. I can't believe he's gone! I didn't even know he was suffering from lung cancer. But then I am not really that close to Mumbai. I should have kept in touch," said Sen.
"Losing Ashok is like losing a part of me. He gave visual meaning to thoughts that would have otherwise remained embedded only in my head. I feel a deep sense of loss at his going. I've lost a very dear friend," she added.
When Sen started her career as a filmmaker with the exquisite "36 Chowringhee Lane" in 1981, she teamed up Mehta for the first time. They later went on to work on two of her most celebrated works "Paroma" and "Sati".
Recalling their breathtaking collaboration, Sen said: "We did three films together '36 Chowringhee Lane', 'Paroma' and 'Sati'. I would have liked to do more films with him. But Bengali films are made on shoestring budgets. Of course, Ashok would have reduced his remuneration for me. He really loved me. But we still couldn't afford him. The whole process of getting a cameraman from Mumbai to Kolkata was finally prohibitive."
Sen reveals that "36 Chowringhee Lane" was earlier supposed to be shot by Govind Nihalani.
"I was thinking of Govind Nihalani to do the film. Govind was very keen to do it. But he had been employed at that time as the second-unit cinematographer of Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi'. I'd have had to wait one year," said Sen.
"My producer Shashi Kapoor asked me if I wanted to wait. But I had waited very long to direct. Shashi suggested many cinematographers. He asked me to check out their works, which I did. Then I saw a film called 'Witness' that Ashok had shot."
"It wasn't even colour-corrected. The story was very run-of-the-mill but the shot-takings were innovative and creative. I saw this film and decided I wanted only Ashok. And my hunch was right," she recalled.
"Ashok and I sat and discussed the visual style of the film. We consulted paintings, art books, the works. Then Ashok asked me to describe the look of my film in one line. I said, 'If a rose was pressed inside a book for a long time, you know what the colours would be?' Ashok immediately understood what I wanted."
"I was brand new in '36 Chowringhee Lane', and I was completely ignorant of the technical aspects of filmmaking. Ashok was a pillar of strength. He said, 'You don't worry about anything. Just tell me what pictures you see in your head. And I'll put then on screen'," she added.
Sen says she could speak freely to Mehta and she will miss him forever.
"I could speak my mind freely with Ashok. I was so young and so outspoken. But he never minded my observations. We shared a relationship of mutual respect and immense trust."
"I will miss Ashok. I missed him in every film that we didn't work on," she added.